“Without having had the actual experience, it is hard for one to appreciate just how difficult it is for an observer, flying in an airplane, to ‘spot’ an object afloat at sea.” — Commander Dalton Davis of the U.S. Navy, son-in-law to Gallatin’s Frank Davis speaking to Gallatin Rotary Club about the current hunt for famous aviatrix Amelia Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, who were lost in the South Pacific on their attempted flight around the world in 1937.
Commander Davis has been stationed at San Francisco during the year when the world’s interest focused on the search for Amelia Earhart. The U.S. Navy sent ships to the area where it is believed the fliers were forced down due to a fuel shortage. Commander Davis is intimately acquainted with naval maneuvers on the Pacific.
"It is very difficult to sight objects at sea. In recent maneuvers we (a fleet) left Honolulu to ‘attack’ another fleet that had left Alaskan waters and was headed south. Planes flew 300 miles each way from ships of each fleet, thereby having an observation range of approximately 600 miles …and neither fleet saw the other."
Commander Dalton, who is in the medical department, was the commanding surgeon aboard the USS Richmond when that ship rescued more than 60 survivors from the ill-fated navy dirigible Macon. The captain of the Richmond at that time is now the commanding officer of the aircrafter carrier USS Lexington which is leading the search for Miss Earhart and her companion.
Is it true that it costs the government approximately half a million dollars a day to conduct the search?
"I’ve heard that report," responded Commander Davis. "But it is not exactly true. Although total expenses, taking everything into account may amount to that sum daily, it does not necessarily mean that Miss Earhart’s accident is wholly responsible. The naval fliers have so many hours flying time, and the ships have to maneuver over the water anyhow, so it is little more than routine duty — except, of course, they have a definite object to search for instead of one which has been ‘planted’ and is searched for."
Commander Davis expressed little hope that Earhart and Noonan still survive. "It is doubtful that they set down on any of the small islands in the South Pacific. However, it is evident that if they were on water they at least survived for a few days because radio reports from them were kept up for awhile. The ship in which they were flying could stay up on quiet waters for a time, but I don’t think it could stay afloat long."
Part of the equipment carried by the fliers was a collapsible rubber boat, but it is not known whether they made use of it.
Until recently Davis was a Lt. Commander which ranks below only that of Captain, Rear-Admiral and Admiral in that order. During his 20 years of service he has been stationed all over the world in naval outposts and at sea. Commander Davis and his wife, and their son, Billy, are visiting Gallatin relatives before departing for his new post at Washington, D.C.
Reprinted from the Gallatin Democrat, July 15, 1937